Over 1,500 people signed a petition to postpone Webster’s 2020 Commencement Ceremony. A day later, Webster announced plans to include in-person ceremonies during Homecoming and Alumni Weekend.
After a backlash from many students online, Webster announced seniors will be able to walk at graduation ceremonies in September. The university’s schools and colleges will host the in-person ceremonies from Sept. 25 to 26.
The university announced it would be adding individual school ceremonies to a university-wide online commencement on March 20. For seniors like Tanner Craft, the decision was a happy surprise.
“My initial reaction was ‘holy crap, they listened to us for once.’ I was happy,” Craft said. “I mean, I understand it’s not a full ceremony, but this is honestly way better than a virtual one and honestly as long as I am able to walk with my peers that’s what matters.”
After reading about plans to host a solely online commencement ceremony on March 19, Craft started a petition to encourage the university to postpone the event.
Senior Olivia White was one of the 1,694 people who signed the petition before it ended.
“I was really happy and excited that they listened to us and saw our petition,” White said. “I think at first it kind of felt like we were screaming into the void, but I’m really happy that they heard us and decided to try and make adjustments.”
According to a statement Webster published on Friday, the university began seeking alternative options to an in-person graduation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement stressed the university’s commitment to the health of students. However, Chancellor Elizabeth Stroble and President Julian Schuster also noted the importance of celebrating students within the announcement.
“These are hard decisions to make,” Stroble said in the announcement. “We deeply appreciate the significance of the ceremonies for our graduates, as well as for our institution.”
According to the university, the ceremonies will take place during Homecoming and Alumni Weekend and will “bolster” the virtual celebration in May.
White was glad the altered plans retained an online commencement ceremony. She noted a virtual ceremony could offer the best option for students who live out of state or are immunocompromised. Craft agreed keeping an online ceremony could be a good option for some students.
“I guess my opposition wasn’t necessarily to the online ceremony. It was more just that being the only thing,” Craft said. “I just wanted to be able to physically walk with my peers.”
While White hopes to attend the in-person ceremony, she is moving in August. Even if she is unable to attend, however, White said she is glad the university offered an in-person option for students.
“I do have a lot of friends and family, and I think it might be worth it to try to come back for this just because I know so many people that live here,” White said. “But if not I’m still glad that Webster listened because I mean there’s a lot of people graduating this year, so that’s a lot of people that are benefiting from it, not just me.”
In the end, White felt as though the online petition was the driving force behind the alteration of commencement plans. She said while she and many others emailed advisors individually, she felt as though the number of people who signed the petition made a difference.
Craft also explained a large number of people worked to spread the petition.
“Everyone who shared the petition, I think, is equally responsible for getting this decision made,” Craft said. “Everyone played an important part.”
As always, this is a changing situation that The Journal is dedicated to reporting on. We will continue to update our community as often as possible.